As the Islamic State group (also known as IS or ISIS) continues to lose territory in Syria and Iraq, its attention is shifting towards terrorism in the West. A prominent member of the group has now for the first time confirmed this change of strategy.
Rachid Kassim, a 30 year old jihadist from France, told ICSR Associate Fellow Amarnath Amarasingam in an online interview: “As the door of hijrah [migration to the Islamic State] closes, the door of jihad opens”. He also said: “We believe that even a small attack in dar al-kufr [the land of the unbeliever] is better than a big attack in Syria”.
Rachid Kassim, a former small-time criminal from central France, joined Islamic State in Syria in the spring of 2015. He has since become an influential figure among the French foreign fighter contingent, frequently calling for attacks in European countries, assassinations of religious scholars, journalists, and political figures.
He is widely believed to have inspired – if not directed – several terrorist plots. They include the stabbing of a policeman near Paris in June, the beheading of a priest in Normandy in July, and the attempted plot to car bomb the Notre Dame cathedral in September.
Asked about his involvement in these attacks, Kassim commented: “I am very proud of them, very, very proud. To me, [the attackers] are role models and heroes.” He also expressed regret that he had no opportunity to emulate their example: “I migrated to Syria one year ago but now I am sad…. If I [had] stayed in dar ul-kufr, I would do an attack there”.
The exchanges were conducted via Kassim’s channel on the messenger application Telegram in October. It remains unclear whether he was speaking on behalf of the leadership, or had official permission to comment on the group’s military strategy. But they represent the most authoritative confirmation to date of a widely reported change of strategy that may have profound implications for Western security.
The full interview has been published on the jihadology.net blog and can be read here.
Dr. Amarasingam is an ICSR Associate Fellow, and also holds a Fellowship at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. He has conducted extensive interviews with Western foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq.